Following up on my previous posts (links below): New York Times op-ed: Leave Your Laptops at the Door to My Classroom, by Darren Rosenblum (Pace Law School):
When I started teaching, I assumed my “fun” class, sexuality and the law, full of contemporary controversy, would prove gripping to the students. One day, I provoked them with a point against marriage equality, and the response was a slew of laptops staring back. The screens seemed to block our classroom connection. Then, observing a senior colleague’s contracts class, I spied one student shopping for half the class. Another was surfing Facebook. Both took notes when my colleague spoke, but resumed the rest of their lives instead of listening to classmates.
Laptops at best reduce education to the clackety-clack of transcribing lectures on shiny screens and, at worst, provide students with a constant escape from whatever is hard, challenging or uncomfortable about learning. And yet, education requires constant interaction in which professor and students are fully present for an exchange.
Students need two skills to succeed as lawyers and as professionals: listening and communicating. We must listen with care, which requires patience, focus, eye contact and managing moments of ennui productively — perhaps by double-checking one’s notes instead of a friend’s latest Instagram. Multitasking and the mediation of screens kill empathy.
Likewise, we must communicate — in writing or in speech — with clarity and precision. The student who speaks in class learns to convey his or her points effectively because everyone else is listening. Classmates will respond with their accord or dissent. Lawyers can acquire hallmark precision only through repeated exercises of concentration. It does happen on occasion that a client loses millions of dollars over a misplaced comma or period. ...
Focus is crucial, and we do best when monotasking: Even disruptions of a few seconds can derail one’s train of thought. Students process information better when they take notes — they don’t just transcribe, as they do with laptops, but they think and record those thoughts. Laptops or tablets can undermine exam performance by 18 percent. Other studies reveal that writing by hand helps memory retention. Screens block us from connecting, whether at dinner or in a classroom. Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, says that just having a phone on a table during a meal “is sufficiently distracting to reduce empathy and rapport between two people.”
For all these reasons, starting with smaller classes, I banned laptops, and it improved the students’ engagement. With constant eye contact, I could see and feel when they understood me, and when they did not. Energized by the connection, we moved faster, further and deeper into the material. I broadened my rule to include one of my large upper-level courses. The pushback was real: A week before class, I posted the syllabus, which announced my policy. Two students wrote me to ask if I would reconsider, and dropped the class when I refused. But more important, after my class ends, many students continue to take notes by hand even when it’s not required.
Putting aside medical exemptions, many students are just resistant. ... To them, I’ll let the Rolling Stones answer: You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. My students need to learn how to be lawyers and professionals. To succeed they must internalize an ethos of caution, care and respect. To instill these values and skills in my students, I have no choice but to limit laptop use in the classroom.
Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:
- Paul Caron (Pepperdine) & Rafael Gely (Missouri), Taking Back the Law School Classroom: Using Technology to Foster Active Student Learning, 54 J. Legal Educ. 551 (2004)
- Paul Caron (Pepperdine), The Path to Victory in the Classroom Laptop War? (Jan. 10, 2009)
- Kristen Murray (Temple), Debunking Myths About Laptops in the Law School Classroom (Mar. 4, 2011)
- Jeff Sovern (St. John's), Student Laptop Use During Law School Classes (Sept. 4, 2013)
- Clay Shirky (NYU), Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away (Oct. 25, 2014)
- L.A. Times, Classroom Technology Bans Improve Student Performance (Mar. 6, 2015)
- Princeton/UCLA Study, It Is Time To Ban Laptops In Law School Classrooms (Nov. 10, 2015)
- WSJ, Students Who Handwrite Notes Get Better Grades Than Students Who Type Notes On Laptops (Apr. 14, 2016)
- Stuart Green (Rutgers), After 20 Years Of Teaching, I Am Banning Laptops In My Law School Classroom (July 11, 2016)